Confronted with such talent and ambition in the form of seventeen year old photographer David Uzochukwu, it’s hard not to wonder what time-wasting activities we were indulging in during our youth. Having garnered an impressive amount of recognition for his eerily captivating images, Uzochukwu has been featured in fashion magazines like Vogue Italia and industry publications like EyeEm (from whom he also received the 2014 Photographer of the Year Award).
Born in Innsbruck, Austria in 1998, Uzochukwu and his family eventually moved to Luxembourg when he was six. Getting his hands on his mother’s point-and-shoot at age 12, there was no looking back. “I started to document everything around me, and was completely obsessed,” he explains. “I can’t say that the obsession has faded, but the desire to document has transformed into the wish to express myself.” His camera allowed him to feel inspired within a small city with little to offer in terms of artistic output. This sense of isolation is what led Uzochukwu to look to the internet for inspiration and connection. “I met so many wonderful artists online that I never would have stood a chance meeting in real life.” Though he learned mostly through trial and error, anytime he ran into a problem with his camera or lighting equipment he would simply look to Google to find a solution. “The internet is a powerful tool — it helped me a lot when it came to finding information.”
Whatever Luxembourg may lack in artistic community, it makes up for ten-fold as a canvas for constant inspiration. “Luxembourg offers fields, forests and abandoned houses, and a safe surrounding that makes it possible to shoot (almost) anywhere at any time of day with your camera equipment, and get away with it.” As he explains, “I do think some surroundings make creating easier, by offering locations or materials or like-minded spirits – but with some effort, it’s possible anywhere.” The incredible scenery in Luxembourg has added layers of complexity to his already haunting portraiture, adding to the lushness and deep saturation of his photographic style.
When I see something that sparks my interest, I start building a story around it.
Though he produces beautiful portraits of his subjects, it’s his self-portraiture that has gained Uzochukwu such accolade. Though getting composition and focus right when shooting himself can be difficult at times, he finds a deep satisfaction in finishing a self-portrait. “When shooting others, I constantly worry about whether the model is uncomfortable, or about how much time I’m taking,” he says. “If I do a picture as a self-portrait though, none of that matters, so that definitely makes creating easier. I can experiment and take risks as much as I want.”
Moving beyond a simple aesthetic product, Uzochukwu’s images focus on depicting a strong narrative vision. “When I see something that sparks my interest, I start building a story around it,” Uzochukwu explains. “That can take a few seconds or several days. I make sketches and just capture how the picture looks in my mind. Once I know how I want the finished picture to look and have all the material I need, I go out and shoot.” After he shoots, he manipulates color and texture in post-production — another skill he picked up from the worldwide web.
I want to be creating work that actually aims to change something.
More than just an educational tool, the internet has played an imperative role in getting his work out there to potential clients and admirers. “Having an online portfolio has proven to be incredibly useful,” says Uzochukwu. “I want to be able to lead potential clients to a place that only showcases the best of my work. I only put the pieces in my portfolio that really represent my style, and I’m constantly updating my website to make sure my newest work is shown.” He credits the internet for making his career such a success. “Without finding inspiration and a following online, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today.”
So what comes next when you’ve already made such an impact at seventeen? “I feel like right now, I’m learning the basics of creating, and am preparing myself for more complex pieces in the future.” The young photographer is eager for his work to make a difference on a grander scale. “One day, I want to be creating work that actually aims to change something; that challenges the viewer and is not simply easy on the eyes. I want to keep exploring, use different media, and actually become an artist. I’m looking forward to it.” So are we David.
original interview: March 10, 2014